Chaim Machlev started tattooing about eight years ago, after transplanting himself to Germany by riding on nothing but good vibes. Wearing his aspirations on his sleeve, he jumped on the scene despite barely having a place to stay and zero fine arts training. His current work still exudes that freshness; unhinged experimentation and an aversion to that which has been made standard. Eight years ago, Chaim’s lack of experience could’ve deterred him from every tattoo shop in Berlin, but instead, it gave him a blank slate, a sliver of opportunity, and something to prove.
I can’t call Chaim’s work geometric. I also can’t call it ornamental, illustrative, or black and grey, even though it technically is all of those things- tattoo vocabulary is a little blunt when it comes to categorizing. I can, however, say it’s evolutionary; sure, there are elements that stay consistent with popular design work, but something is always a little twisted, skewed and turned in a completely different direction, until it becomes another entity overall. A lot of his artwork is rooted in spiritual symbolism, with the sacred mandala shape rounding out the list. Though no tattoo of his mimics another, Chaim’s designs are a collective interpretation of relationships-between body and mind, body and nature, and the undefined currents that blow it all into existence.
There are a few recent tattoos in Chaim’s portfolio that I think do good job summing it all up- despite the underlying impossibility of such a task. One back piece features a large mandala, stretching out along the shoulder blades in harmony, but the focal points of the tattoo are the black- headed birds forming a loose triangle around the image- a quiet testament to the artist’s delicate hand and carefully pinpointed composition. A spiraling, ribbon-like line running down the entire right side of a woman speaks to his love for longitude- Chaim has a knack for continuity and pieces that can cover or wrap around one’s body without imposing on it. In another photograph, a client bares their forearms to reveal a pair of wolves baring their teeth, both engulfed in a leafy, wild pattern. It’s not even about the symmetry though- that slice of clean cut perfection takes second place behind the wholly original and interpretive content Chaim takes on as a tattoo artist.
The defining characteristic of Machlev’s tattoos is that they conform to almost nothing- not tradition, not modernity, not style- except for the body. When it comes to our own physicality, those images bend and curve as if they were there the whole time, and the tattoo becomes an extension instead of a foreign object.